Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Not-So-Musical Cathedras

"What's up with this?" a cleric-pal asked the other day. "Is it true that Lake Charles and Birmingham are still open because no one wants to go there?"

On further review, it's a pretty widespread theory.

A couple weeks back, the hair-triggers did go off in Southwestern Louisiana, asking, hoping, begging, praying for confirmation that something was imminent after buzz on the ground that an appointment to the former -- vacant since Bishop Edward Braxton's transfer to Belleville in March 2005 -- had been completed, with an announcement in the offing.

Several bishops were likewise under this impression. And then... bupkus. At least for now.

Seemingly, the deluxe episcopal lodging in Lake Charles -- thank Braxton for that -- has shown itself an insufficient deal-closer; as has been buzzed about in recent months, the fullness of the priesthood is being declined these days at numbers unseen since the 1830s here in the States.

The Birmingham appointment is, of course, unique, and uniquely complicated, given the presence of EWTN on top of a sizable local church burgeoning with transplants and converts. On this account, it could be said that the vacancy there -- the state of affairs since Bishop David Foley's retirement in May '05 -- is a microcosm of the episcopacy in general: if you're keen for the job, it's not you they seek.

Unless, of course, you just happen to get a phone call.

And if you do, regardless of disposition or destination, be wise to recall the words of Benedict Flaget, the pioneer bishop of Bardstown. As he handed the papal mandate to a trembling, 33 year-old priest plucked from the Kentucky frontier to quell a revolt in the Northeast, Flaget uttered a sentence that speaks across the ensuing centuries to the chosen ones of our own day: "Receive the certificate of the cross you are about to bear."

The recipient of the document, and the quote, was Francis Patrick Kenrick, one of my historical favorites. In the city where his journey ended, his name returned to the papers last week.

Further proof that old bishops don't die -- their letters live forever.